Hiring the right talent for digital marketing roles can be tricky. These are highly skill-based jobs, so first your first impressions from a small interview may not always be true or complete.
For example, a graphic designer who does great art/technical work might be an introvert, and not have any interest or confidence in talking. So his poor verbal acumen may skew your decision.
Conversely, someone with aggressive communication skills may charm their way into your team, only for you to discover later that they bullshitted well but don’t really possess any actual hands-on skills to get the job done.
How do you tackle this as a leader?
Of course, you can send the candidates small takeaway assignments to gauge their performance, but you’re still going to want to meet them face-to-face (or via Zoom call) to see if they’re a cultural match for your workplace.
Above all, there should be good chemistry between both parties. Your thought processes, values, work ethics, and priorities should be similar, if not the same. But how exactly do you evaluate whether it’s a good match?
So to make the interview process easier for managers, here’s a list of questions you should ask when you’re hiring for marketing or creative roles such as content creation, social media management, graphic design, video editing, client servicing, media planning/buying, SEO/SEM, performance (paid ad campaign managers), etc.
Note that if you’re on the interviewee’s side of the desk, this list will still come in handy to help you prep for common interview questions expected from senior marketers.
Before we begin, note two caveats. Firstly, while I will be using the umbrella term “marketing” in the questions to keep them consistent, you can replace it with your specific role and tweak it accordingly (eg. graphic designer, Search Engine Optimizer).
Secondly, given the short time span, you won’t be able to ask all the questions I’ve listed below. If we’re being realistic, you may only be able to squeeze ~5 out of the 30+ odd ideas I’ve added to the roster.
That’s alright because in the end, your end goal should be to have a nice organic conversation anyway.
So you should be treating my suggestions simply as rough flag posts for directing the flow of the interview.
Phase 1: Background & Aspiration
Approx Time: 15 mins
Most interviews begin with the employer asking the candidate to walk them through the portfolio/CV.
This is a comfortable topic to kick off the interview because most candidates are aware of what they’ve done, and so they can talk about their past without giving it a second thought. It eases them into the conversation.
Also, a person’s background can help you gauge if they fit your requirements. Say your agency specializes in sports making content for sports brands or athletes, but the candidate has worked for B&W (beauty) houses only.
In that case, their knowledge may not translate here well because both industries have vastly different tonality and demographics.
Ask these introductory questions:
- Which brands have you worked on in the past? (for how long + in what roles)
- Which settings have you worked in? (eg. freelance, corporate, agency, startup, MNC)
- What were your core responsibilties in the latest job?
- Which skills did you require & learn in the last 3 roles?
- What are some tools you use regularly at work?
- What are your biggest strengths in terms of the skillset?
- What’s your weakness and what would you need to improve on it?
- What/who inspired you to enter this field? (motivation, purpose, etc.)
- What excites you the most about your role?
- Is this the field you want to work in for the rest of your life?
- Which one is your favorite project so far, and why did you enjoy working on it?
- Which project gave you a lot of trouble, and what did you learn from it?
- What are some achievements or milestones as a marketer that make you proud?
For Fresh Grads
If you’re interviewing fresh grads with minimal experience, you can ask:
- Do you do any marketing/creative personal projects on your own? (eg. Blog, YouTube channel, podcast)
- Which brands/influencers/coaches do you follow on social media, and what do you like about them?
- Do you do any self-learning online? Which sites, courses, or channels do you follow to skill up?
- What were 2-3 units you took in university that you think would really help you perform in this job?
- Have you participated in any activities, groups, or clubs on campus where you used marketing skills?
- Explain a technical industry concept you learned recently but do it as if you’re talking to a 10 year old
Once you have a basic understanding of their professional background, you can steer the conversation towards the future. Prompt them to talk about their aspirations:
- Why are you looking to change jobs right now?
- How would our company help you grow as a marketer?
- What sort of skills & tools are you interested in picking up?
- In which kind of position do you see yourself 5 years down the line? (they should have the ambition to grow into a leadership/director role)
From the perspective of quality assessment, you should give a preference to candidates who can share some achievements or KPIs for every brand they speak about. This shows that they didn’t just do plain work but also had an impact, and are aware of it.
A good marketer knows how their campaign performed, what worked well, and what could be done better next time, so the ability to self-analyze one’s previous work critically is the personality trait to watch out for.
Phase 2: Process & Problem Solving (Situational)
Approx Time: 15 mins
As I said earlier, marketing is a highly skill-based job so you want to ideally shift the conversation to specific situational questions and see what the candidate thinks is the best way to tackle them.
See if they can articulate their process because while most designers can design, not all of them can explain why they took certain routes & decisions when coming up with the visual.
For example, one question you could ask is, “How would you go about creating a brand guideline book for an ice cream company? What would you include in it?”
Prompt them to talk about the times when they faced roadblocks/hurdles in the journey, and how they tackled them because creative consultants should be, above all, good problem solvers.
The goal is to keep your questions situation-specific so that the candidates reply with actual anecdotal evidence instead of bullshitting theoretical answers.
For example, if you’re hiring social media folks, you can ask:
- When you’re talking with a client for the first time, what questions do you ask them?
- How did you conceptualize ideas for your last project? Which research sources did you consult?
- According to you, what makes a good design brief? (instructions/concepts written by a strategist)
- Tell me about a time your client rejected an idea first but you managed to convince them to use it
- Tell me about a time you handled a really difficult client
- What sort of content campaigns would you create during Xmas season for an Indian jewellery brand?
- What are 3-5 mistakes would one have to make to end up with a bad piece of content?
- A customer has left a furious negative review on a restaurant client’s page about the service staff being disrespectful and rude. You’re writing on the behalf of the manager. What points would you include in your reply?
- Which platform do you personally enjoy to create for the most? Why?
- Which platform do you think has immense potential to grow in the future? Why?
- What’s one social media platform you would like to kill/end/destroy if given the chance?
Moving on, you should also judge their awareness of current trends and events in the industries:
- What’s the last trending hashtag or news topic you heard about?
- What are some recent changes or updates on the popular social media platforms?
Above all, try to keep your questions specific & ask follow-up questions (probe further) because there are a lot of bullshitters in this field, so candidates loosely use terms they don’t know hoping that it would impress the recruiter.
For example, I once asked someone what they know about FB Advertising. They used technical terms like CPA, CPM, and CPC, but when I asked them to clarify what each of those means, they stuttered around.
Case in point, don’t be impressed on the first round & double-check if your candidate is really knowledgeable about their role.
Phase 3: Personality Match
Approx Time: 30 mins (2nd round)
If the technical interview went well, and you have some time to vet candidates further, you can call them the top performers for a second final round, which would focus more on the cultural match between your organization & the potential new joiners.
Get to know how they unwind because it’ll give you more insights into what fuels their creativity. As a leader, you can use that information to motivate the person.
For example, if they say they love reading books, you can offer to buy them a library subscription or a cash voucher for shopping at Crosswords/any other book store.
- What do you enjoy doing besides this job?
- Where would you like to travel in the future?
- What kind of food do you like?
- What are 2-3 values/ethics that define you?
- Tell me about a tough or uncomfortable decision you’ve had to make in your life
- Are you aware about our ethics/values? (this should be on your company’s website!)
- What kind of work environment brings out the best in you?
- What would be your top 3 expectations from me as a leader?
Phase 4: Job Details
Approx Time: 15 mins (2nd round)
Now that the candidate is done talking, it’s your responsibility as a leader to make them understand the job description really well. You should take the time to explain:
- How this company came about – it’s mission & vision
- Your products/business models
- How a normal working day in their life look like
- What responsibilities they should expect to handle
- The people they’ll closely collaborating with
- The challenges or situations they may face
- KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for evaluating their performance
- How often will the evaluation be done + how you’ll coach/mentor them
- Your expectations from them as their leader
- The communication channels & operational tools you’ll use
- Your style of giving feedback
- Opportunities/resources for their growth & development
- What events & activities you do to keep the team motivated
- Systems to make sure that working from home/remotely happens smoothly
Do reserve the last 15-20 minutes of the interview process for the candidate to ask you questions, too. The intelligent ones will always be curious to understand more about the role, the company, and its people, so watch out for healthy curiosity.
Conclusion: Keep it conversational
I have listed a vast amount of questions in this article. But remember that the interview is a 2-way discussion, or at least it should be. Creative people thrive in brainstorming sessions but hate interrogations.
So make sure you don’t look like an FBI officer, and actively participate yourself, too.
You can achieve a balanced rapport by:
- Sharing your views on what the candidates said
- Pitching in with your personal experiences on the topic at hand
- Allowing the candidate to ask you questions
- Being open-minded & humble enough to learn from others
Yes, marketing can be a tricky field when it comes to finding the right kind of talent. But that’s what makes it exciting – you get to meet so many different varieties of people, and the only way you’ll find a fit is by having respectful conversations.
So don’t rush into making the final decision, and invest some time in making your review process well-organized across the board!
What do you think of all the questions listed above? Do you have any unique practices or stories to share from marketing interviews( (on either side of the table)? Let us know in the comments below!